Life membership for Ken Atkinson

December 17, 2018

A Mt Garnet grazier says “keeping an eye on the greenies” was his motive for joining the Wet Tropics’ new natural resource management board in the early 2000s.

Fifteen years later Ken Atkinson has been made a life member and he laughs at his original notion.

“I’ve learned a lot along the way, and seen a lot of changes in the way land is managed,’’ he says of his decade-and-a-half commitment to not-for-profit natural resource management organisation Terrain NRM.

Mr Atkinson retired from the board recently as the last of its initial members.

He says land management has come a long way since the government established 56 natural resource management bodies across Australia in 2003 including FNQ NRM, which later became known as Terrain NRM.

“In the Wet Tropics, it’s been about getting people on board rather than standing up the front and telling people how to do things, and that’s something that’s worked for both farmers and conservationists,’’ Mr Atkinson said.

“With the collaborative approach, sustainable and productive land management is going from strength to strength.”

He says a current project – the Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project or MIP that the Queensland Government is investing up to $15 million in over three years – is a case in point.

This initiative is considered a first of its kind, having been funded by the Queensland Government and designed by the Wet Tropics community with the input of more than 40 organisations and hundreds more individuals.

It is also a leader for its innovative solutions to water quality issues, ranging from on-farm bioreactors and high-efficiency sediment basins to trials of man-made wetlands and vegetated drains. The project includes establishment of an Australia-first Reef Credits scheme, similar to carbon credits, which will provide ecosystem service payments to landholders in exchange for making changes that reduce nutrient, pesticide and sediment run-off to the Great Barrier Reef.

The Reef Credits scheme is being designed in partnership with environmental market developer Green Collar and NQ Dry Tropics NRM.

Mr Atkinson said the level of enthusiasm and interest in the Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project – which is largely based in the Innisfail-Tully region - was a sign of the times.

“Ten years ago, this wouldn’t have stood a chance of getting going, especially with the level of cooperation needed between landholders and others,’’ he said.

“It shows me how much has changed over the years.  I see it as a big step forward, the way forward when it comes to the way governments and philanthropists invest money in changes to help both the Great Barrier Reef and land-based systems, and the way people can be brought on board to make changes.”

Terrain NRM Board chair Keith Noble said Mr Atkinson’s “quiet counsel and wry smile” would be greatly missed.

“Being a fourth-generation Tablelands grazier as well as a helicopter pilot, Ken really does have a birds-eye view of the country and he has brought this detailed perspective to Terrain NRM's board table and fitted it into the broader landscape picture over the years,’’ he said.